Category Archives: Culture
There have been myriads of articles and posts written about how leaders can best build commitment and a culture of trust among their employees. Many of those methods are proven and well-studied.
But one thing often missed is a need for leaders to drive deeper into themselves and promote a behavioral leadership style that fosters connection, commitment, and engagement.
Below are 6 behavior mindset changes that leaders need to change within themselves before they change the level of trust in their organization.
- Trust Your People First. I had a business owner who was severely challenged with staffing tell me the reason she couldn’t get employees was that she didn’t trust anyone. She was shocked when I told her she was correct and wrong at the same time. Numbers of studies show how employees want trust from their leaders. Placing the trust in your people first will usually work to get them engaged – it never happens the other way around.
- Don’t Play Favorites. Leaders who ignore others, such as spending most of their time with the coolest or the people making the numbers happen, divide their teams silently and quickly. When people feel detached because they aren’t part of the “inner circle” they distrust leadership and many think you have to be unethical in order to get attention or feel valued.
- Don’t Assume Fault. Over the years I worked for a leader whose favorite response to any situation was “Who’s fault is that?” A question like this always placed people on the defensive, and assumed a failure on that person’s behalf. Moving away from a fault-finding mindset into a mindset of turning bad circumstances into opportunities to win long-term, change processes, or develop skills will have your people fighting for you when things go bad, instead of fleeing from you.
- Know That They May Know More Than You. I had a former colleague say that they had been embarrassed about a boss showing them up by stating how little my friend knew in front of others and proceeded to talk about something they did not really know much about. My colleague told me the boss was actually the one who embarrassed themselves because everyone present saw the puffed-up leader make a fool of themselves. It did more to harm the trust of the staff as they felt they too would be next on the public embarrassment stage. Give your people the platform to showcase what they know and then stay out of their way to prove it.
- Don’t Assume Ill Intent. Many times when an employee has an issue the first thing certain leaders do is to assume that the person isn’t committed, or going rogue, or being a saboteur. When leaders know that performance issues usually stem from lack of trust in leadership, systems, or culture, then you can take steps to correct those external forces that negatively impact employee performance. It’s another aspect of trust that needs to be present in mind at all times.
- Find Ways To Always Train Them Up. Whether subtly or overtly, leaders who tear down staff in front of others will not produce leaders or employees who do the same in others. When a great leader focuses on every opportunity to train and develop, consistent with the other behaviors listed, a culture of trust is solidified in which true business growth can then foster. By finding ways to train instead of criticize, people around you will adopt a development mindset that attracts employees and brings out their best for you.
Over the years I have noticed that the best leaders consistently exhibit all of these traits without wavering. Those that have swung on both ends of the spectrum in any of these behaviors showed a much higher degree of employee mistrust.
Changing the level of commitment from employees means changing the level of trust first. This can only be done by changing your leadership mindset in how you approach and view any and all of your people to begin with.
Many companies are using employee surveys and other methods to gauge the “temperature” of the company. But how many of them actually take the “temperature” of the individual employees on their teams?
I was privileged to work with an excellent mentor years ago from Britain. Mike was as proper an Englishman as you could come across and was an engaging leader in so many senses of the term. One of his strengths, a practice that I still use to this very day, is what he called a “One-to-One” or, more loosely, a “Temperature Check”. I have used the latter term more commonly over the years, partially as it plays on the daily functions in the hospitality industry, but also in using this as a true indicator of how hot or cold a particular person is in the organization.
The purpose of these checks is to drive down to the core feelings of the team, both individuals, and as a whole. It is a great opportunity to not only find out more of what was happening in the field, but to also build relationships and stronger working bonds that ultimately brings the team more close. To make the most of these checks, we discovered a few guidelines in order to make them most effective:
1. Make “Temperature Checks” informal and light. These are meant to be open communications. Have them in the team members’ area, not your office, or they become nervous and on the defensive that they’re being reprimanded. Have coffee. Ask how their family is doing. Set the tone for casual conversation.
2. Be up front in your expectations. Tell the staff person what you hope to get out of your talk. Let them know they can talk in confidence, with nothing to be held back, even it there is anything negative about you. Let them know your commitment is to make them, the team, and yourself better so work can be both enjoyable and productive.
3. Qualify the 3 F’s – Feelings, Facts, and Fault. You’ll be confronted with all of these in most every temp check. When the person talking says “I feel” or “I’m afraid”, ask them to clarify. Sometimes it’s based on gut rather than objective evidence. When specifics are given, pull out more detail to ensure the facts are accurate. When fault or blame is given, if at all applicable, take it yourself, for the team. This type of responsibility is a breath of fresh air, and will go a long way in bridging any trust gaps between the two of you.
4. Be honest. While it seems so self-explanatory, it’s just good practice. Any lies or embellishment will either be found out then or shortly afterward. If that is the case, you’ve undermined the enitre process, and wasted both of your time.
5. Under-promise and over-deliver. A basic customer service principle that applies just as strongly to this situation – because you are working with your internal customer. Making guarantees to fix something might seem all well and good, until other facts or forces beyond your control hamper you from making the solution happen as you told them. Instead, let them know you will both commit to finding a solution, and to keep them appraised of the steps towards resolving their concerns. Then follow through. By keeping them up to date, they see you are taking their concerns seriously, and respecting their input.
6. Thank them for their efforts. Leave the conversation making sure that the person knows their value to the company, and that you recognize it as well. Lead them to be inspired to better action, attitude, and trust by letting them know you appreciate them and that it’s a pleasure and a privilege to work alongside them.
Temperature checks can be great, informal ways to have a dialogue with your people and get their views on your culture and what’s working, or not. By following the above steps you can transform your culture, deepen employee engagement, and build stronger levels of trust by simply valuing your people’s feelings, thoughts, and skills.
A number of years ago there came to light a scientific case study called “The Dilution Effect”
It posited that an increase in species to create a greater biodiversity could greatly reduce the risk of Lyme disease in humans. Thus, generating a broader spectrum across an ecosystem could prevent the environment that allows Lyme to reside and infect ticks that spread the disease.
While the research is still being done to prove this study, there is a laboratory where dilution can help mitigate a toxic environment. The workplace.
A toxic culture is usually the presence of counter-cultural individuals and/or teams within an organization that threaten to poison the current environment.
While many times the wisdom is to prune and remove these individuals it is more necessary to replace them and grow the organization with those who are more pure with the work culture you are promoting.
There are times when you need to separate or allow attrition to remove toxic people from your company. This is vital to ensure the culture stays intact and is not corrupted. Yet even more important is to replace them with people who are closely aligned with your core values and culture and will keep the culture intact. Otherwise you will run the risk of introducing toxic behaviors and attitudes and return to the same, or worse, state that you were originally in.
Another steps is to continue to hire and grow the organization with people who are more closely congruent with your culture, creating a larger and larger dynamic that can minimize the toxic impact of others. In some cases, as I have discovered in my own leadership career, gaining a broader base of employees who are culturally instep can actually change some peoples’ toxic behaviors into champions of the culture – a kind of FOMO (fear of missing out) workplace transformation.
Think about it this way. You have a beaker of pure water and introduce a drop of raw sewage into it. That pure water is tainted and now needs a larger influx of pure water to flush out the sewage and mitigate the harm done by the impure substance. This represents lessening the impact of toxic individuals by replacing them with more culturally sound people.
In addition, you can also dump the beaker and refill it with pure water, akin to removing the toxic individual.
The premise is simple but you need to exercise discernment in keeping those who are culture champions engaged as you build around them, and not replacing them as well. This is a challenge to keeping the right mixture and balance in your organization of tenured people who have grown the culture and newer, culturally-aligned individuals graft in sometime later. Having the right focus on building complimentary teams and creating harmony and engagement adds to the equation, so keeping this in mind is vital to growing the culture without dividing it inadvertently.